Fielding Bible and Gold Gloves

Eight years ago, John Dewan and the good folks over at BIS video approached me about becoming a voter for a new award they were calling the “Fielding Bible Awards.” The name wasn’t very catchy but the idea was interesting. The idea, loosely, was that baseball defense deserved a more thoughtful award than the Gold Gloves.

Rawlings has been giving out the Gold Gloves out since 1957 — and there is no doubt that it has been a terrific award for baseball.The Gold Gloves have shined a light on many of the greatest fielders in baseball history: Mays; Maz; Clemente, Kaline; Bench; Brooksie; Ozzie and so on.

At the same time, though, the award has tended to slip a bit when not crowning an OBVIOUSLY great defender. It’s easy to know subjectively AND objectively that Ozzie Smith was a world class defender.

But what about someone like Dave Winfield or Dale Murphy? They are two of my all-time favorite players, and I was thrilled that they won Gold Gloves because that secured their place in the temple of all-around baseball stars. But did they deserve them? Their defensive WARs would suggest: No. Their range factors would suggest: No. Winfield kept winning Gold Gloves into his mid-30s when, even those of us who loved the guy knew he was not too far away from being a DH. Murphy won Gold Gloves the five years when he was a superb hitter. In many ways, these two great player defined the award.

The Gold Glove voters (managers and coaches) would give awards:

1. To players who had an outstanding defensive characteristic like a good arm or a penchant for diving.
2. To players who hit.
3. To classy players who, in the cliche quotes, “played the game the right way.”
4. To players who had won Gold Gloves before.

The most egregious choice in Gold Glove history happened when Rafael Palmeiro won the first base Gold Glove in 1999, though he played 128 games as a DH and just 28 at first base. Palmeiro hit all the categories — he was very smooth looking, he hit, he had the gamer reputation and he had won the previous two years.

John has long been fascinated by defense in baseball, so he formed this company that compiles all this defensive data by watching and charting video of every play in every game. They dedicate themselves to studying and analyzing defense in baseball. And they wanted an award intended to reward the best defenders each season, whether or not they can hit, whether or not they have a great defensive reputation, whether or not they’ve won the award before.

This is a hard goal, I should say, and the Fielding Bible panel undoubtedly has its biases too. We might be too stat driven. We might fall for players who seem great in small sample sizes. But, all in all, I think the award has been a success and, in subtle ways, has also made the Gold Glove award better.

The first year there were ten Fielding Bible voters. This year, there were 12 — including Bill James, Brian Kenny, Dave Cameron, Doug Glanville, Hal Richman, Peter Gammons, Rob Neyer and Mark Simon. Tom Tango’s Fan Poll also got its own vote. I suspect you know who all these guys are; if not you can easily find out on the Internet. The other two voters were BIS employees — John Dewan himself and the BIS video scouts, the people who look at every game.

So, enough of my yakking, let’s take a look at this year’s Fielding Bible winners and Gold Glove winners and see how we all did.

* * *

First base

AL GG: Eric Hosmer, Kansas City.
NL GG: Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles
Fielding Bible: Adrian Gonzalez

Gonzales had a fantastic defensive year both by the statistics and by the eye-test and so was recognized by both groups. Meanwhile, I have to say that the Fielding Bible people were not impressed with Hosmer’s defense this year — he did not finish in the Top 10 among first baseman. I put him in my Top 10, but lower down. Hosmer is a pretty good case study for the difference between the Fielding Bible Awards and the Gold Glove. He is a guy who looks really smooth over at first, and he’s good at scooping balls out of the dirt, and he makes some nice diving plays, and he’s young and energetic and the sort of player you just want to give an award. But the defensive numbers consistently show him to be pretty average.

* * *

Second base

AL GG: Duston Pedroia, Boston
NL GG: DJ LeMahieu
Fielding Bible: Dustin Pedroia

We’re all definitely on the same page here. LeMahieu finished third in the Fielding Bible voting — Rob Neyer voted him the best defensive second baseman in the game. Pedroia and LeMahieu are both special defensively. I thought Ian Kinsler had a really good defensive year too, and I voted him No. 1 overall, followed by the two Gold Glove winners.

* * *

Third base

AL GG: Kyle Seager, Seattle
NL GG: Nolan Arenado, Colorado
Fielding Bible: Josh Donaldson, Oakland

Well, the Kyle Seager choice is a bit weird. It’s not a BAD choice — Seager is a very good defensive player. He finished a solid ninth in the Fielding Bible voting and was as high on some ballots as sixth. But I will say that I have no idea how he won the Gold Glove in a year when Donaldson was so ridiculously great at third base. This was a bit like giving the Oscar to Tommy Lee Jones for “The Fugitive” over Ralph Fiennes in “Schindler’s List.” Tommy Lee Jones was fine. But Fiennes, man, that was the performance of a lifetime.

My guess is Seager won the award because had so few errors (8) compared to Donaldson (23) — error nonsense still plays in the minds of a lot of people around baseball. And, like Hosmer, Seager's young and exciting and had a breakout type season — you want to give Gold Gloves to guys like that. But this is the first one I’m going to call a major disagreement: Fielding Bible voters, across the board, thought Donaldson was definitively better than Seager.

* * *

Shortstop

AL GG: J.J. Hardy, Baltimore
NL GG: Andrelton Simmons, Atlanta
Fielding Bible: Andrelton Simmons

Again: Same page. Simmons swept all 12 Fielding Bible voters, and Hardy finished third. Our big debate was over Jhonny Peralta, who I never liked all that much defensively before this year. But he really impressed me both by his sparkling numbers (he led the AL in Dewan’s runs saved; and had a 2.6 defensive WAR) and with the eye test I watched him play. Then, Bill James didn’t buy that at all — he he did not include Peralta in his Top 10.

It leads to the question: Can a guy just have a magical defensive year that is an outlier from the rest of his career? That certainly happens on the offensive side — Brady Anderson or Norm Cash or Davey Johnson or Rich Aurilia can just have a fantastic season out of nowhere. It certainly happens for pitchers. Could that have happened for Peralta on defense? I don’t know the answer but I suspect that, yes, it can.

Leftfield

AL Gold Glove: Alex Gordon, Kansas City
NL Gold Glove: Christian Yelich, Miami
Fielding Bible: Alex Gordon

Everybody’s in line here — Gordon finished first on every single voter’s ballot, and Yelich finished second on seven of the 12 ballots.

By the way, I think the Fielding Bible Award does get just a little bit of credit for the Gold Glove changing its outfield award so that it is now gives out awards to all three outfield positions. From 1961 to 2010, there were three Gold Gloves in each league given to nondescript “outfielders,” which meant that centerfielders dominated the award and strong-armed right fielders filled in most of the gaps. Left fielders after Yaz really didn’t have much chance to win a Gold Glove, which was silly.

* * *

Centerfield

AL Gold Glove: Adam Jones, Baltimore
NL Gold Glove: Juan Lagares, New York Mets
Fielding Bible: Juan Lagares

All right, here is where the argument gets hot. The Gold Glove voters have always loved Adam Jones — this is his fourth Gold Glove — and the Fielding Bible Award voters have never even liked him. He did not finish in the Fielding Bible Top 10 this year; as far as I can remember he never has finished in the Top 10. There are years Jones did not get any votes at all. This year, I had him in my Top 10, but not all that high.

Who’s right? I don’t think it comes down to right or wrong — it’s a matter of view. I know why the Gold Glove voters worship Jones. He looks spectacular in the outfield. He is smooth, he’s fast, he makes great catches, he doesn’t make many errors, he flashes a strong arm, and he’s just cool — you WANT to believe that he’s a player who can do everything.

I also know why Fielding Bible voters are averse to Jones — his defensive numbers are annually mediocre. The Dewan plus/minus system, which tries to measure how many plays a player makes against the league average, calculates that every single year since 2009 Jones has made FEWER plays than the average outfielder. His other defensive numbers are not very exciting either.

I’ll say this: In a league with Jackie Bradley Jr. and Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson and Leonys Martin it’s just hard for me to see how Jones can win the Gold Glove. I just think this is leftover from the old Gold Glove ways. Jones is a great hitter, he’s a star of and exciting team, he’s won Gold Gloves before. And Jackie Bradley Jr., hit .198. They just don’t give Gold Gloves to guys who hit .198 no matter how great they are defensively.

I should add this: I have spoken with smart Baltimore Orioles fans who say they watch Jones every day and the guy’s just ridiculously awesome so maybe I’m just missing it.

* * *

Right field

AL Gold Glove: Nick Markakis, Baltimore
NL Gold Glove: Jason Heyward, Atlanta
Fielding Bible: Jason Heyward

OK, I’ll grant that I might be missing it on Jones. But I’m not giving you Markakis. I’m just not giving it to you. The fact that Nick Markakis has now won two Gold Gloves is a complete mystery to me, the biggest mystery of this year.

Markakis’ defensive numbers are blah. He hasn’t had a positive Defensive WAR or a positive Dewan Plus/Minus since 2008. And to me he LOOKS utterly mediocre with none of the grace of Adam Jones. Mark Simon did vote Markakis third and Bill James voted him sixth, so there must be something they’re seeing. I don’t see it. I didn’t see him as a Top 10 guy at all — and then I saw him in the playoffs and he seemed a real liability, which I will admit is probably just confirmation bias.

Anyway, even if you think Markakis is a good outfielder, I don’t see how you can give him a Gold Glove in a league with Josh Reddick and Daniel Nava and Kevin Kiermeyer, I just don’t get this one at all.

* * *

Catcher

AL Gold Glove: Salvador Perez, Kansas City
NL Gold Glove: Yadier Molina, St. Louis
Fielding Bible: Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee

Catcher is hard to judge. What are we looking for? Throwing out base stealers? Blocking the plate? Calling the game? Framing strikes? It’s a hard one. Everyone agrees Salvy and Yadi are superhuman. Lucroy had a magnificent defensive year too.

* * *

Pitcher

AL GG: Dallas Keuchel, Houston
NL GG: Zack Greinke, Los Angeles
Fielding Bible: Dallas Keuchel

I predicted back in his rookie year that Zack Greinke would someday win a Gold Glove. I get so few predictions right, I had to mention that.

* * *

Multi-position

Fielding Bible: Lorenzo Cain, Kansas City

This was a new award for the Fielding Bible, and I like it a lot. It’s a concept the Gold Gloves people might want to consider. Lorenzo Cain was one of the great defenders in baseball any position. Everyone saw that in October. But he was not even a finalist for a Gold Glove, and while it’s easy to rip the Gold Gloves for that, the truth is that it was about how Cain was used. He played 723 innings in centerfield (Jones played almost twice as many) and he played another 388 innings in right. It’s hard to give him one award when his season is split up like that.

The multi-position award was actually inspired by Ben Zobrist, who for years now has put up Gold Glove quality defense at whatever position the Rays happened to put him at. I voted Zobrist No. 1 in this award because I thought he should win the inaugural version of it and then voted Cain No. 2 — but Cain deserved it. I think it probably should just be called the “Zobrist Award.”